Planning events can be difficult at the best of times, but it is vital to make sure that whatever you’re organising is open and easily accessible to delegates with a wide range of individual needs. Here are a few tips to make sure you fulfil your legal obligations and ensure as many attendees as possible will be able to enjoy your event. However, remember this is far from an exhaustive list and more detailed advice can be found on the website of the Office for Disability Issues.
Under The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, disabled individuals are guaranteed the equal right to attend, participate in and benefit from events. This means that any service that could be used by disabled people (an event in this instance) should be subject to “reasonable adjustments” in order to enable disabled individuals to engage in the same way as those without disabilities.
The best way to ensure your event is accessible to all who may wish to take part is to know beforehand what reasonable adjustments may be necessary. When delegates are signing up for your event, make a point of asking them whether they will have any such requirements.
It will be easy to do this using your event booking software, especially if you add a drop-down menu where attendees can select specific requirements or detail them using an “Other” option. However, it is wise to include an accessibility statement explaining that you will do your best to ensure all delegates can participate to the fullest extent.
It is essential that this step is completed. Of course, you need to know well in advance if you will need to hire a British Sign Language interpreter, for example, or if hearing loops will need to be tested. But you’ll also have to make sure that everything you may need to accommodate the needs of disabled delegates is available on the day. Individuals with similar disabilities may manage them in different ways, so you’ll need to be prepared for any number of potential requests.
Not everyone will find that an online form is the best way to register or find out more about your event, so always make sure you provide clearly visible contact details of where attendees can request alternative formats. It may be they require a hard copy in large print or Braille, or you need to provide a textphone as well as a telephone number. And think about the website itself - some disabled people may use specialist software to read web pages, so your site will need to be compatible.
Beyond the marketing stage, the same principle should apply handouts, agendas, programmes, tickets and any other materials you might be handing out to delegates. Information should be available in Easy Read, as well as paper and an audio format for those with sight impairment.
Time and place
Probably the most well-known adjustment to have been made to many buildings is the addition of ramps, providing wheelchair users and other disabled people with alternatives to climbing stairs. But there is more to physical accessibility than this and event planners need to ask some crucial questions before selecting a venue. Look for disabled parking nearby and ensure the accessible entrance to the building is close to the room where the event is being held. You may also need to check the proximity of disabled toilets, handrails and lifts.
There are time considerations to think about too - include regular breaks and if your event spans multiple locations for different sessions, build in enough time between them for delegates who may have impaired mobility to reach their next venue. Equally, consider the timing of your sessions in relation to the working day. It may be easier to run events between 9.30am and 4.30pm to avoid causing any difficulties for those who may need carers, as well as delegates with caring responsibilities.
Spread the word
Any information passed onto you about a delegate’s disability is likely to be subject to data protection laws, but it is important that speakers and staff are aware of the differing needs of attendees. Speakers may need to talk through any slides or presentations they use, provide handouts on coloured paper or send them out well in advance to those with sight impairments or dyslexia. Anyone being asked to chair a discussion may have to be on the lookout for people speaking too quickly or quietly, asking them to moderate their voice if need be.
Meanwhile, venue staff and organisers need to be knowledgeable and able to explain the accessibility options open to delegates to ensure they feel as comfortable and included as possible. By enabling them to participate in events, planners can ensure that all delegates benefit from the valuable contributions of attendees with disabilities.